Given the choice of sitting on the couch watching major leaguers swinging for the fences while having my ears assaulted by Chris Berman’s contrived calls or enjoying a nice night in a riverfront ballpark while minor league Cardinals play a real game that counts, I’ll take genuine over fake. Every time.
Which is why I was at Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, Iowa, Monday night to watch the Quad Cities River Bandits take on the Clinton Lumber Kings — baby Birds vs. baby Mariners.
And what a game it ended up being …
First, some background. If you’ve never been to a game at Modern Woodmen Park, add it to your to-do list. It’s a gorgeous stadium on the banks of the Mississippi River about 250 miles upstream from St. Louis. Visiting it is No. 76 of 100 Things Cardinals Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die by Derrick Goold (the original version of the book, anyway — the link is to the updated version published this year). And Goold captures one of the best parts about a game:
After dusk, in time for late innings, the Centennial Bridge lights up and the river shimmers, creating a backdrop city administrator Craig Malin wanted — a scene, he said, “so beautiful grown men will weep.”
There’s been baseball at this ballpark in the Quad Cities since 1960 — last weekend, the 7 millionth fan attended a game. The team’s had a variety of major league affiliations through the years — Angels, Cubs, Astros, Twins among them — and has been a Cardinals affiliate since 2005. Rick Ankiel played here that season, on his journey back to the majors as an outfielder. (I was there for his debut.) And other familiar Cardinals have as well — Colby Rasmus, Jaime Garcia, Jon Jay, Jason Motte, Shane Robinson, Lance Lynn, Matt Carpenter and, just two years ago, Matt Adams and Joe Kelly. Even Aaron Miles played here when this was an Astros farm team. Plus Jim Edmonds when it was Angels, Shawon Dunston when it was Cubs and Joe Mauer when it was Twins.
Anyway, back to Monday. I was excited to see Tyrell Jenkins start for the River Bandits, since he hadn’t pitched in the few games I’ve attended so far this season. Unfortunately, that excitement didn’t last long. Jenkins gave up three straight singles to start the game, then a one-out homer followed by a double and run-scoring single. Five runs before the Bandits even came up to bat. Ouch.
My friend Keith was discouraged with the top of the first inning, pretty much chalking the game up as a loss. The Bandits went down in order the first two innings, yet scored one in the third on a walk followed by a double, so I pointed out they just needed to start scoring a run an inning to get back into it.
Jenkins settled in a little for the next two innings, helped by a pick-off at second base from catcher Casey Rasmus in the second plus a caught-stealing at third base from Casey in the third. (Yes, he’s Colby’s younger brother.) After getting two strikeouts in the top of the fourth — he had five total — Jenkins gave up a single, a walk, threw a couple of wild pitches and hit a batter to load the bases.
Perhaps not surprisingly, his night was done.
In next was Robert Stock, the catcher-turned-pitcher who Tara’s interviewed before. This was my first opportunity to see him pitch, although I saw him catch many times during 2010. (And he became my favorite Bandit that season when he harassed my niece for wearing a Cubs shirt.) He quickly got out of the inning with a grounder to second.
Robert was impressive during his 2 1/3 innings. He was throwing 92-93 mph and consistently getting ahead of hitters. He had one strikeout, one walk and didn’t allow a hit, mostly getting guys to ground out.
In the meantime, the Bandits scored another run in the bottom of the fifth — again on only one hit, thanks to an error that allowed Casey Rasmus to reach, a passed ball, a walk and finally a single.
Following Robert Stock was Travis Miller in the top of the seventh, who immediately had us questioning why Robert was taken out. He gave up a walk, a single and a double to start the inning — one run scored. Another runner was thrown out at the plate (it was a good night for Rasmus), although an error by third baseman Neal Pritchard allowed the second run of the inning. (I was disappointed not to see Stephen Piscotty. Next time!)
So, going into the bottom of the seventh, it was 7-4 Lumber Kings.
A pitching change for Clinton finally let the Bandits bats get going, as designated hitter Brett Wiley led off with a single. The three teenage girls sitting a couple rows behind us then decided he was their favorite player. Apparently they’d had enough time to study the photos of each guy as they appeared on the scoreboard during his at-bat, and he was it.
His every move, perhaps even his every breath, was cheered. “Wiley — woooooo!!!” “Go Wiley!!!!!!” “Yeah, Wiley!!!!” “Wiley!!!!!”
Why they were only using his last name, no clue. And he was on base for a while this inning, meaning we heard this nonstop. The funny thing: it was his second game with the Bandits. And, with Colin Walsh activated from the disabled list yesterday, he’s already gone.
A Luis Mateo single moved Wiley up to second base (wooooo!!!!!) and a pitching change meant Wiley was just standing there for a bit. (Yay!!!!!) A wild pitch (go Wiley!!!!!!) moved him up to third, and he and Mateo scored on an Anthony Garcia double. Wooooooo!!!! It was now 7-6. And, with Brett Wiley safely in the dugout, there was peace momentarily … from the teenagers, anyway.
Pretty soon everyone was cheering.
David Medina was up — yes, when he does something well, they have played the song “Funky Cold Medina” over the PA. Another wild pitch moved Garcia up to third, meaning Medina’s sac fly tied the game. Yay!!!! (Which is almost what I said on Twitter, and I wasn’t the only one caught up in the excitement of the moment.)
I just realized I have no clue if they played “Funky Cold Medina” after the sac fly. I hope so.
The top of the eighth inning brought Heath Wyatt into the game. He is a submarine pitcher, which meant watching him throw was very cool from my perspective while seemingly very confusing for the Lumber Kings. Wyatt retired them in order on two ground-outs and a strike-out.
The bottom of the eighth didn’t start out too promising — Casey Rasmus and Roberto De La Cruz were quickly retired. (De La Cruz, by the way, is obviously a favorite of the PA announcer — it’s always “De La Cruuuuuuuuuuuuz” when he’s up.) Roberto Reyes was next.
His at-bat was even more epic than Daniel Descalso’s 10-pitch one against Heath Bell last Sunday. Reyes fouled off pitch after pitch after pitch after pitch before eventually, like Descalso, walking. Next up: Brett Wiley. Woooo!!!!!! Yes, his cheering section behind us was in full force. But soon we all were, as he singled. (However, I did not yell “woooooo!!!!!) Matt Williams was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
That brought up Luis Mateo. And it’s quite possible I did scream “wooooooo” — he hit it to right field and raced around the bases as first one, then two and three runs scored and he ended up with a triple. Which, of course, made the score 10-7 Bandits.
Was there that kind of excitement in the Home Run Derby?
While I was too caught up in the moment to tweet, the River Bandits were not. (If I had tweeted, no doubt I would have used many more exclamation points.)
The top of the ninth brought Wyatt back out, and he quickly retired the first two Lumber Kings. It’s understandable too — a low 90s fastball coming in from an odd angle would throw guys off for sure. He did give up a single before getting a ground-out to the star of the game, Luis Mateo at second base.
That was a winner! A comeback-from-being-down-by-five-before-even-batting winner!
It was an incredibly fun, highly entertaining victory, and so much more enjoyable than watching a contrivance like the Home Run Derby on television would have been.
Because, even though it’s a cliche, it’s true.
You can’t beat fun at the old ballpark.
Christine Coleman is the senior St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.